Using your own knowledge and the evidence of the sources identify the problems we face when looking to identify Nazi support in the period up to 1933.
In the 1932 Reichstag elections, the NSDAP became Germany’s largest political party with approximately 37% of the total electoral vote. In contrast to the relatively small party of 1928, this was a dramatic rise in party popularity. What is even more interesting is how Hitler and the NSDAP did not usurp power in a military sense. Instead, Hitler was voted into power by millions of unsuspecting citizens from a range of sociological, economical and ideological backgrounds. However, due to this new consensus among modern historians (post -1980), the stress on the individual as oppose to the class has led to a more complex understanding of who essentially favoured the Nazi party; deeming it even harder to identify empirical evidence from sources.
Initially, before 1928, the NSDAP had failed to make a significant impact in German politics and they were merely a group with little popular support. However, due to the collapse of the Wall Street Crash and the subsequent recall of loans back to the USA, unemployment had risen dramatically in Germany and latent discontent with the Weimar government was rife. The socio-economic dislocation caused by the Wall Street Crash began to deepen, which acted as the catalyst for the marked rise in those changing their political allegiance to the more radical political groups. These people included self employed businessmen, artisans, retailers, peasant farmers and industrial workers, who had previously voted for the other parties but had now turned to the Nazi regime who offered what the then current Weimar system could not.
Therefore, traditionalist interpretations of the support held by historians such as Childers and Noakes assert that it was a combination of the petty bourgeoisie and Protestants who overwhelmingly represented the support for Nazis. As Childers states in his book entitled “The Nazi Voter”, “being a Protestant in rural Germany greatly increased such a propensity”, essentially stating that there was a specific trend of rural Protestants who fuelled the support for Hitler. However, Childer does acknowledge that the Nazi Party was a Volkspartei (People’s Party) whose levels of support were actually from a “broad range of social groups”. In addition, Childer argues that when analysing this ambiguity, it is important to contextualise the provenance of the election polls and “the specific grievances of those who [chose] the NSDAP to speak for them”. For example, it is important to contextualise the extent of support acquired from the middle classes under the 2nd Reich, contrasting with the support from the new middle classes after the election.
Dick Geary in his book entitled “Who Voted for the Nazis?” somewhat opposes the view of Childer, who basically argues that the timing of when a specific poll was made is arbitrary because of the lack of reliability in studying percentages. Hence, this is why many believe that modern opinion polls are necessary in the search for definitive evidence on the subject. Geary explains how in a particular county 28% of the artisans voted for Nazis. However, he argues that the difficulty lies in how the people who voted cannot be specified, as he states “what if it [the votes] came from the farmers plus people in business”, rendering the statistical evidence somewhat invalid.
Other difficulties historians face involve the lack of depth to many contemporary foreign journals and accounts, which often neglect the question of who supported the Nazis. In order to gather evidence about why the individuals voted, one survey from Abel documents over 580 Nazi member autobiographies. Although still significant today, one potential problem which is discussed by the historian Brustein is how one cannot accurately surmise whether or not the individual actually believes in his/her sentiments towards voting for the Nazi party.
In his book entitled “The Logic of Evil”, Brustein, from a modern perspective, argues that regardless of the idea of support gathering as a result of a people’s movement, the support was only “an inch deep”. In addition, Brustein asserts that all who voted fell under the underlying principles of “dissatisfaction, resentment and fear”; exposing the Nazi support to mere superficiality. This severe lack of genuine support for the Nazis even resounds in the opposition to the Hitler Youth; namely the Navajos, Pirates and the Black gang, who would attack anyone in the Hitler Youth because of their following of the Nazi regime.
In the last twenty years, a number of problems have been countered when analysing the statistical methodology and sources of the Nazi era. This has inevitably given birth to the complex views proposed by Falter and Brustein, who posit that German workers were far more attracted to the Nazis than many have argued in the past. However, one fundamental issue that cannot be solved is the difficulty in measuring the honest thoughts of the German public and whether or not the lack of any pre-existing loyalties (political or religious) aided the Nazis significantly. Having said this, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence which still stresses that the Mittelstand and the Protestant communities voted disproportionately in favour of the Nazis more so than any other class.